Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns - Staff Review  

The Ninja Who Always Stays Abreast of Things
by Glenn "7thCircle" Wilson

40-60 Hours
+ Entertaining localization.
+ Fixes battle system issues from the first title.
+ Great voice acting in Japanese
- Brings nothing new to the genre.
- Projectile items are unnecessary and weak.
- Extremely limited inventory space.
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   In 2007, the Americas were introduced to Japanese developer Success with its release of the critically panned, entry-level roguelike Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja. The ninja who no one wanted to see again returns in the aptly titled Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns, this time sporting an excellent localization, dropping the more roguelike aspects of the gameplay, and upping the overall production value. The sequel arrives as an improved, funnier, and outright more enjoyable dungeon crawler, fully capable of washing out the terrible taste that the first Izuna title left in everyone's mouth.

   At its heart, Izuna 2 is a straightforward and simple dungeon crawler. Several shape shifting caves, forests, chasms, and other dubiously monster-filled structures are unveiled over the course of the game. Their randomly generated floor plans change each time one is entered, making the layout of items, hallways, and enemies on each level different every time. Izuna equips weapons with which she can gut enemies in melee combat, however every time she takes a step or swings her weapon, the enemies respond by taking a step or attacking. Combat is turn-based, Izuna 2 is not a real-time action game, and the player will often be outnumbered and surrounded in the labyrinth's more open areas. When the heat is too much, Izuna can call on a companion to assist with her mounds of trouble.

   New to the sequel is a tag mechanic. Once the plot advances past the tutorial and the introductory dungeon, the player gains the ability to take two ninjas into battle. After this, the game plays like usual with the player controlling a solo, baddie-slaughtering ninja of choice, but with the press of a button, the active character juggles out and the inactive character takes her place. This can be used to relieve a near-death ninja, or to have two fighters specialize in handling different enemy situations. In addition to essentially giving the player an extra life, the different traits of the various characters can be exploited to create a partnership ready for any situation.

   While all characters play the same, their development and weapon selection vary. Izuna 2 expands upon the original's arsenal by adding ranged weapons, like boomerangs and bows, and new melee weapons, such as dolls and boots. The result is an array of seven weapon types. Every ninja has a proficiency with each type, potentially dealing more or less damage with certain weapons, and being unable to use others. HP and SP levels change from character to character, leaving a large number of balanced choices between whom one wishes to bring into a dungeon. For example, Mitsumoto can use every weapon in the game, but at a slight handicap in that he deals less damage with them. On the other hand, Shuuchi is limited to only equipping arms and swords, but he is the only character who gains a damage bonus while using those weapons. Characters who have high HP, such as Shuuchi, are better able to handle intense melee combat, while ones with low HP and high SP are best for ranged weapons and talisman use.

A self-referential line. A self-referential line.

   Talismans are Izuna 2's catch-all for magic, weapon upgrades, and items. Using a talisman consumes a large amount of SP while unleashing a powerful spell. Sticking one to a weapon adds an offensive or defensive ability. Talismans can also be tossed at an enemy, however this forces the fiend to use the talisman, and can potentially be very harmful to the player. Fortunately, the talismans are clearly labeled with their effects; the player will not be left guessing what each one does, although the talisman names themselves are in Japanese, and hence slightly awkward to memorize. The aforementioned SP is a combination of stamina and magic points. It decreases when Izuna is clobbered, while walking around, and when talismans are used as spells. When both tag partners' HP reach zero, the player is kicked out of the dungeon and all items and money are lost, but the characters retain their experience points. When SP is zero, nothing special happens, however as SP decreases physical attack damage substantially decreases.

   The tag mechanic carries one more ability: the inactive member can be summoned to dish out an extremely powerful tag attack. Most tag attacks damage every enemy in the room and function as the only way to annihilate several monsters at once when Izuna's back is against the wall. The exact result of these attacks differs depending upon the characters being used as well as which one is active and which one is inactive. Some of the ninjas' tag maneuvers cause status effects, others deal massive damage, and in rare cases a ninja participating in the attack will take damage. While these details are mostly discerned via trial and error, each partnership has an initial compatibility at the start of the game that determines how effective their tags are. Dying lowers a team's compatibility while traversing through dungeons together raises it.

   All the buttons on the DS are well utilized, enabling the player to succeed instead of hindering him. A clear and helpful tutorial transparently introduces most of the gameplay concepts quickly and in an entertaining manner right at the start. The initial dungeons have a high drop rate for healing and escape items, and later in the game these can easily be bought in shops. This vastly alleviates the original Izuna's issue with game overs. Because of the high death rate and difficulty in retaining items, the first Izuna turned roguelike play into monotonous level grinding. Izuna 2 allows all of the beneficial items to be available from the beginning of the game, has shorter opening dungeons with kinder item drops while the player learns the system, makes it easier for one to keep items between excursions, and creates a gameplay environment where surviving occurs much more often. Experience levels are still retained after death, but the game grants many options for staying alive instead of laughing as Izuna suffers, loses everything, and starts over at a higher level. Izuna will still suffer due to invisible traps, cruel enemy abilities which can wreck her inventory and items, and the potential to be surrounded in the blink of an eye, but now there are more ways to kill or escape one's way through harm.

He's crying because he played the first Izuna. He's crying because he played the first Izuna.

   The localization of Izuna 2 is outrageously funny. After producing a lame duck translation in Izuna, the sequel sees Atlus USA return to form with the tongue-in-cheek, silly, immature humor which was advertised, but not delivered, in the previous title. Picking up a few years after the end of the first game, Izuna 2 features the titular Izuna and her crew of ninjas touring the country. The characters are older, but any maturation was purely physical; mentally, they are just as lost, hopeless, and childlike as they were in the original. The plot exists for one reason, and one reason only: character interactions. Specifically, characters interacting by constantly talking about female breasts. The game is laden with nonstop references to the size and presence of every woman's funbags in the game. Pardon the slang, but any review worth its salt must hammer this point in: the entire dialogue of this game centers around boobs, how big they are, how absent they are, and even whether or not it is appropriate to loudly discuss such things. Anyone offended by this would do best to avoid the game. One should know, though, that the localization truly is hilarious and unique. This could be the funniest game in the entire DS library. Even on the few occasions when discussion drifts to other topics, such as Izuna's strange behavioral issues or insults directed at bystanders' ages rather than their chest endowments, the conversations are always entertaining. There is a story about saving the world, of course, although even it is rarely handled seriously.

   The graphics aim to be functional rather than above average, but at least Izuna's sprites were redrawn for the sequel so that the game is no longer borderline ugly. In addition to the more attractive makeover affecting all of the town and battle images, attention was paid to the 2D anime-inspired artwork displayed during plot scenes and tag attacks. For the women, this art often emphasizes how well the characters have developed. The music and sound are barely acceptable, with audio effects in the dungeons useful while exploring, but not particularly missed when the DS is muted. What stands out aurally is the excellent voice acting. Even though the game is voiced entirely in Japanese, the quality is very good and adds to the gameplay experience. The words may sound like nonsense, however the text displayed on the screen is, naturally, in English, and the lines chosen to be voiced are often the most emotional ones, so the feeling is conveyed in the sound while the player reads the words on the screen.

   Izuna 2 is a clear-cut, unassuming, turn-based dungeon crawler. Eschewing battle-related gimmicks, it attempts to stand out from the crowd by offering the player a light-hearted and comical story premise obviously inspired by anime. While the first game in the series was bland and encouraged the player to die and retry even when no mistakes were made, the second offers several significant gameplay tweaks and additions to successfully transform what is essentially the same horrid battle system into something fun, if not beaming originality. The dungeons are more numerous, but shorter. Enemies now set off and reveal traps when they step on them. The tag system allows some leeway for error while giving the player a powerful, rechargeable way to critically damage large numbers of monsters. These changes all make the game more playable and less soul crushing. While there are many easy, entry-level dungeon crawlers on the DS, Izuna 2 is perfect for those who are turned off by pokémon and chocobos, and turned on by an unending barrage of breast jokes. Anyone who enjoyed the first Izuna should also enjoy this more entertaining, less broken upgrade. Those who require a dungeon crawler to have some kick to be worth playing may find it in the funny plot, but not in the actual gameplay.

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